Tuesday, October 28, 2014

List Of Capital Offenses In The Old Testament

Here's a list of all the capital offenses in the Old Testament as compiled by Thom Stark in Is God a Moral Compromiser? It makes for a handy reference.

  • Premeditated Murder (Exod 21:12-14, 22-23)
  • Kidnapping (Exod 21:16)
  • Striking a Parent (Exod 21:15)
  • Cursing a Parent (Exod 21:17)
  • Rebelling against a Priest (Deut 17:12)
  • Rebelling against a Parent (Deut 21:18-21)
  • Sacrificing to Deities Other Than Yahweh (Exod 22:20)
  • Working on Saturdays (Exod 35:2)
  • Using Yahweh’s Name in Vain (Lev 24:10-16, 23)
  • Being the Owner of a Goring Ox That Finally Gores a human to Death (Exod 21:29)
  • Prophesying Incorrectly (Deut 18:20)
  • Sacrificing Children to Molech (Lev 20:2)
  • Divination or Magic (Exod 22:18)
  • Adultery (Lev 20:10-21; Deut 22:22)
  • Bestiality (Exod 22:19)
  • Incest (Lev 18:6-17)
  • Homosexuality (Lev 20:13)
  • Consensual Premarital Sex (If You’re a Woman) (Deut 22:20-21)
  • Temple Prostitution (Lev 21:9)
  • Rape of a Married or Engaged Woman (Deut 22:25)
  • Failure To Scream When Being Raped in the City, If You’re an Engaged Woman (Deut 22:23-24)

Interestingly, pedophilia and owning slaves is not a capital offense, but working on Saturday, premarital sex and prophesying wrong is. Considering how horrible this list is, it's a damn good thing we don't have absolute unchanging morality.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Does Acupuncture Work? (Part 2)

(continued from part 1)

Early last summer I began a series of acupuncture treatments to help myself quite smoking. My on-again off-again addiction to tobacco since I was 17 has been one of the most frustrating things to give up, and when Hitchens died of esophageal cancer back in 2011 after decades of having been a heavy smoker, the idea that I should really quit became more pungent. I know that smoking can degrade the quality of life, especially in the latter years, as well as cut years off of it and cost tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. So when I heard that acupuncture can cure this addition, and that my insurance covered the treatment 100% I thought, why not give it a try.

After about 3 dozen sessions what has the result been? Did it cure me of my addition to tobacco? Did it get rid of the desire?

Even though I'm a skeptic, I admit that I wanted acupuncture to work really badly. But after several months of treatment, I can't say that it has cured me of my smoking addition. I definitely smoke less now than I did before I started the treatment, but I don't know if that was due to my psychological desire to quit or whether the acupuncture actually did anything. It is really hard to tell. Maybe the acupuncture just provided me a false sense of security, but I don't know.

Throughout the treatment I was continually asked by the therapists what my smoking level was. This made me feel like I had to report that I was smoking less because I wanted to make them think that it was working. But this also had the effect of making me smoke far less than I normally smoked. I eventually began having days when I didn't smoke any cigarettes at all, which I didn't have before the treatment.

YouTube Atheists

I enjoy my share of YouTube atheists from time to time. They can provide a lot of entertainment and help you understand and refute the many apologetic tricks theists never cease to conjure up.

One YouTube atheist I've come to like is this guy calling himself TheMessianicManic. I like his videos because they're usually short and to the point, no more than 5 minutes or so, and he takes on many of the common arguments theists make. I also like the style of his videos. They're well edited and straightforward and not too over the top. Check him out below:

This other guy CultOfDusty is pretty well known. This particular video humiliating Ray Comfort is genius.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What A Week

I've been out for sometime due to a medical issue that caused me to spend a few days in the hospital. Life's been pretty shitty for me the past week or so. I can tell you that if I didn't have medical insurance I'd be fucked. It's sad to think that in the richest country on earth, a person's life could be nearly ruined because of a treatable medical emergency. I have private health insurance through my job and so far it's been OK, but I wonder what Obamacare would've been like.

I have some pending posts I hope will be interesting. I will follow up on my post Does Acupuncture Work? and I will have my personal answer to whether it worked for me. Also, a Christian interlocutor of mine who I debate with regularly has offered to buy me a book he thinks makes a good argument against the New Atheists called The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism. I hope it's a good read. The reviews I've read however, are not too kind, but we shall see.

I've spent years trying to find the best arguments for god and against atheism. In the early years I've focused on a lot of Ray Comfort level idiocies but were then told by theists that I really needed to check out William Lane Craig, because unlike embarrassments like Ray Comfort et al., Craig was a "sophisticated theologian" who was able to address all the atheist's challenges for evidence. Well, after having spent years following (and critiquing) Craig's arguments, I'm not that impressed by him. In fact, although I think he's a superb debater, I think many of his arguments and views are a joke. But then I was told yet again by internet Christians that Craig is not a real sophisticated theologian, and I had to check out Alvin Plantinga, because he was a real sophisticated theologian. Then I read some of Plantinga's arguments, and although I do indeed find them sophisticated in that they're complex and very esoteric, I didn't find them compelling and found some of them also to be joke-worthy.

But yet again I'm told that the real "sophisticated theologians" are the ones behind the scenes who aren't the well known popularizers. And now I land of Edward Feser, a Catholic philosopher who I'm lead to believe is the real real sophisticated theologian. Well, I will read his book and give a chapter by chapter review on this blog. It will be a nice little winter project, as I'm generally inclined to stay home in the long cold winter months. And as an interesting note, I was told that reading Feser's book would deeply challenge my atheism. Oh really? This should be fun.

Stay tuned.

Monday, October 13, 2014

William Lane Craig On Identifying Objective Moral Values

Listen to our favorite apologist William Lane Craig in the video above explaining where he thinks we can identify the objective moral values he believes are grounded in Yahweh. He says the way you can know moral values are objective are that you can "appeal to your moral experience. Don't you think as you reflect on it, that certain things are genuinely evil, for example....to torture a little child for fun."

But listen to this. Craig's basis for objective moral values is actually our subjective emotional responses. This is quite interesting and problematic, for at least two reasons:

First, how does Craig explain the sociopath who doesn't feel that it is evil to torture a child for fun and may even enjoy the idea? The truth of the matter is that we don't all respond emotionally to different moral situations the same way. Some of us lack the physiological ability to empathize with the suffering of others and may even enjoy the idea of torturing others. The basis for objective morals is therefore on shaky ground if it is going to be rooted in one's subjective emotional response.

Second, our emotional responses differ from culture to culture and from people to people. Take an issue like same sex marriage. There are people on both sides of the issue that are very passionate and emotional about their views. Trying to "appeal to your moral experience" will do nothing on these kinds of moral issues to establish an objective basis. Craig might think that his moral experience is somehow more objective than others, but he has no basis to make such an argument.

What Craig is actually doing is a microcosm of what all religion does on morality. What religion does is it takes the moral values that are held by that culture - what repels them, what attracts them - and codifies it into a religion and assumes that these morals are now somehow properly basic. Craig is just taking his own moral experience as a Christian American and making them "properly basic" and declaring them objective, but in reality there's no objective basis for them, it's totally subjective. That he doesn't see this is telling.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Islam, ISIS, Ben Affleck, Bill Maher, And Sam Harris, Oh My

I can't believe that I haven't yet written a single post about the radical Islamic militant group ISIS, although I've tweeted plenty about it. ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or simply just the Islamic State, are a band of radical Islamic militants who, through a campaign of violence and terror, have gained control of many parts of eastern Syria and western Iraq and seek to establish a new Islamic caliphate based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law, known as Sharia. They've been accused of beheadings, crucifixions, and mass killings, and are considered even too extremist for Al Qaeda.

ISIS's brutality is once again reigniting a debate that we never actually finished having which became part of the national conversation after the events of September 11th, 2001. The debate is over whether Islam is a religion that condones violence and oppression, and whether the problem with terrorism and violence among Muslims is caused, at least in part, by the Islamic religion.

Recently, on Real Time with Bill Maher, Ben Affleck got into a scuffle with Maher and guest Sam Harris over this very issue. What ensued was a classic failure of liberals like Affleck to understand the argument. Affleck did exactly what Harris says liberals do when he said, "We have been sold this meme of Islamophobia, where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry towards Muslims as people and that is intellectually ridiculous." Almost right after that Affleck does exactly what Harris just said people do by calling it "racist" to criticize Islam, which is a fucking religion! What Affleck fundamentally doesn't understand is that Maher and Harris are criticizing the religion of Islam, not the followers. They're criticizing the Koran and what it says, and you can criticize the Koran without saying all Muslims are violent or sexist. The Koran has many violent and sexist verses in it (as I will get to), but we all fully acknowledge that most Muslims are not violent. They're not all trying to blow themselves up to get 72 virgins, or cut the head off of the nearest infidel. Critics of religion like Maher, Harris and myself, can recognize this important distinction that far too many liberals like Affleck fail to see.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Brian Greene On Free Will And The Laws Of Physics

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A List Of Psychological Biases That Humans Have

I'm always baffled when I hear theists make the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN), where they argue that naturalistic evolution would make our beliefs fit for survival, and not for truth, but somehow think that with god's guidance our brains were designed for truth. Below I have a list of some of the biases that affects virtually every human being taken from Michael Shermer's book, The Believing Brain. So the challenge to theists who hold to the EAAN is this: if god guided our evolution so that our brains would hold beliefs that are true, why do we have so many psychological biases that prevent us from the truth that appear to be the product of that very evolutionary process?

Confirmation bias: the tendency to seek and find confirmatory evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignore or reinterpret disconfirming evidence.

Hindsight bias: the tendency to reconstruct the past to fit with present knowledge.

Self-justification bias: the tendency to rationalize decisions after the fact to convince ourselves that what we did was the best thing we could have done.

Attribution bias: the tendency to attribute different causes for our own beliefs and actions than that of others.
  • Situational attribution bias: we identify the cause of someone's belief or behavior to the environment.
  • Dispositional attribution bias:  we identify the cause of someone's belief or behavior in the person as an enduring personal trait.

The Great Religion Debate Part 3: Is the world better off without religion?

Religion is a notoriously difficult word to define. For the purposes of the Great Religion Debate I defined religion as "the belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny." Although it may be impossible to find a perfect definition of religion and many will find some issue no matter what definition is provided, this definition differentiates religion from things like philosophy, worldviews and politics.

Although every religion is a worldview, not every worldview is a religion. Under this definition Christianity is a religion, Judaism is a religion, and so is Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, Scientology, and some forms of Buddhism and Confucianism. Political ideologies, theories and philosophies like liberalism, libertarianism, conservatism, socialism and communism are not religions. Neither are naturalistic philosophies such as existentialism or determinism.

One of the best orators against the social effects of religion was the late Christopher Hitchens. He put forth four basic reasons in the beginning of his best seller God is Not Great indicting religion as a poison to the enlightened world. Religious faith he argued:

1) wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos
2) because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism
3) it is both the result and cause of dangerous sexual repressions 
4) it is ultimately grounded in wish-thinking

Many argue that it's not religion in and of itself that causes any harm, it's people acting wrongly in the name of religion that results in this harm. This is usually coupled with the view that it's only some versions of some religions that can be harmful, but that religion as a whole is not to blame. There is no doubt that we must consider nuance when dealing with a concept as complex as religion. I do not in any way think all religions are equally harmful. The term "religion" is like the term "sport," to use Sam Harris' analogy. Some are much more prone to harm than others. To think all religions are equally harmful (or equally good) is therefore naive.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Great Religion Debate Part 2: Is America truly a "Christian" nation?

A recent YouGov survey found that 34% of Americans favor establishing Christianity as their state's official religion. The same survey found that 32% of Americans would support a constitutional amendment that would make Christianity the official religion of the United States. A 2009 Newsweek poll showed that 62% of Americans think the US already is is a Christian nation. That's a lot of people.

The debate over whether America is a "Christian nation" is hotly debated and has been since its inception. Today the issue is largely divided by politics. Liberals for example generally disagree that the US is a "Christian nation" while conservatives generally believe it is. In order to begin debating this we first need to define what we mean by a "Christian nation."

We don't mean whether or not the majority of Americans are Christian. The answer to that is clearly yes. What we mean is whether the US was founded on Christian principles. Meaning, did the Founding Fathers envision America as a Christian nation to be guided by the Christian religion? Or was the US founded on secular values and philosophies and not intended to be guided by the Christian religion? The heart of this disagreement comes down to interpretations of America's Founding Fathers and documents, and has profound political and legal effects relating to almost every aspect of government.

Those that believe America is a Christian nation argue that many of the Founding Fathers were deeply Christian and drew upon their Christian heritage and beliefs as inspiration for creating the political precepts that underpin the nation. In other words, they say that America was founded on Christian (or Judeo-Christian) values and that our Constitution is based on the Bible. David Barton is a notable example. He's the darling of the Christian Right, who's been called one of America's greatest "historians." He's been accused of being a revisionist and one his books attempting to portray the Founding Fathers as deeply committed Christians has been revoked and pulled off of shelves for its abominable scholarship. But even with this, people like Barton remain successful in convincing those who want to believe that America is a Christian nation, is a Christian nation. They just don't have the facts on their side.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Great Religion Debate Part 1

Later this week I will be hosting a debate about religion at my local debate club and I'm very excited. Some of the debate topics that will be covered will be:

• Is America truly a "Christian" nation?

• Is the world better off without religion?

• Is god necessary for morality?

If you've read my blog before you'll know where I stand on these issues. None of these topics are about the metaphysical debate over whether god exists or not or whether one particular religion is true over another. That can be a side issue. Instead, what we'll be debating are the social effects of religion on society along with the role it plays in government and public policy. 

I expect that many people will have varying ideas of what they think "religion" and "secularism" are, so defining these terms is paramount to these debates. Religion for example, is a notoriously hard to define word. There are at least 5 or 6 different commonly used definitions. We throw the word around colloquially to mean a variety of things. We say things like, "In Brazil soccer is a religion," and "Bankers worship money as their religion." For the purposes of these debates, I will define religion as the belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny. This definition differentiates religions from political philosophies like liberalism or conservatism.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What Debating Means To Me

How could someone who claims to be a man of love and compassion be so argumentative and polemic? The question has arose from time to time. I think it's perfectly rational to be for love and compassion while at the same time rigorously debating deeply held ideas.

To use an analogy, it's similar to how two boxers can pummel each other in the ring, and then are able to sit down together and enjoy a peaceful diner. There is a right time and place for punching someone in the face. When two consenting people step into a boxing ring, it's the right time and place. Punching someone on the street for no reason is not the right time or place.

I see debating in a similar manner. There is a time and a place for debating. Challenging someone random on the street in a hostile manner unprovoked is not the time or place for debate. That's just being rude. On the internet however, it's a little different. Comment threads on apologist and counter apologist websites are the time and place for debate. The same goes for political websites. In fact, any time someone expresses their views publicly could warrant a debate. If I'm forced to hear your views on anything, whether it be political or religious, then you must be forced to hear my criticism. If you can't handle getting challenged, keep your views to yourself.

I welcome debate on this blog and actively seek out prospective interlocutors. I admit that I can sometimes get nasty and can appear very cocky, and if I were a theist I'd definitely think an atheist like myself would be an arrogant antitheist, to say the least. I'm conscious of this and I'm actively working to conduct myself with a certain level of politeness and courtesy, but the impersonal nature of the internet perhaps brings out the worst in me. Intellectual debates should be civil, most of the time. But as Christopher Hitchens often said, "civility is overrated." He was the kind of polemicist that I deeply admire. He could be ruthless in a verbal or written  disagreement, but nice and courteous in regular social functions.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

How Popular Is The Many Worlds Interpretation Of Quantum Mechanics?

It is hard to say as statistics vary. But here is one showing that majority (58%) of scientists surveyed hold to it over other interpretations.

Elvridge., Jim (2008-01-02). The Universe – Solved!. pp. 35–36. ISBN 978-1-4243-3626-5.OCLC 247614399. "58% believed that the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) was true, including Stephen Hawking and Nobel Laureates Murray Gell-Mann and Richard Feynman"

You're A Filthy Unworthy Sinner And Don't Deserve To Live

Many atheists find it highly offensive when we're told by a religious fundamentalist that we're wretched, filthy, sinners who are unworthy and undeserving of our lives (that we didn't even ask for) and that the only remedy for this situation is to follow their stupid religion. Just think about what we're being told.

To give you an analogy, it would be like if a person forced you to accept a brand new Ferrari. Then while driving it you start to enjoy it, and then the person who gave it to you notices this and begins hounding you with insults, saying things like, "Oh you're enjoying the car I gave you, huh? Well you don't deserve it! You're a filthy, unworthy sinner!" And they never shut up about it. And you try reminding them that you were forced to accept the car, but it doesn't change their attitude one bit.

Any person who would give you a car in this manner would be absolutely crazy, and yet that's exactly what religions like Christianity say is the case when it comes to god and our lives. And yet theists who are thoroughly brain washed into their faith will never see this because they must maintain their dogma at all costs, even if it they recognize the absurdity that parallel examples provide.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Was Your Grandfather A Monkey?



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